You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to find spiritual awakening. Your relationship can be as deep a well of spiritual growth as you'd find on any meditation retreat. A spiritual relationship is one of the most powerful tools for transforming you into your best self. Every relationship has its own unique set of challenges, which are all just opportunities for growth—if only we see them as such. Here are nine characteristics of spiritual relationships that any seeker should aim to cultivate.
1. Your conflicts are temples for growth.
Yes, conflict feels unpleasant, awkward, frustrating. But because conflicts with your partner challenge you to be understanding, solve problems, and communicate when you're not firing on all cylinders, you come away from them better prepared to handle whatever stressful situations life throws at you with equanimity and grace. On top of that, if you're open to constructive criticism from your partner (which is crucial to resolving conflict), you'll become aware of weak areas in your character that you may not have recognized on your own.
And if you find there are certain things your partner does that trigger disproportionate reactions from you, you can see that as a clue to revealing any unresolved trauma clinging to your present self, and start working to heal it. Conflict, when handled with love and respect, actually builds intimacy and encourages personal growth.
2. You both practice compassion in moments you might be tempted to judge.
In those moments of conflict, or in struggles you or your partner face individually, you don't criticize or affirm each other's negative self-perceptions. Instead, you listen with understanding and acceptance. You see your partner's wounds as something with the potential to transform them through healing, and they see yours the same way. You have faith in each other's ability to surmount these challenges and encourage each other to do so.
When your partner is struggling, you encourage them to challenge themselves without being demanding or making ultimatums, and your partner does the same for you. You make each other better.
3. You are fully present in the relationship.
In a spiritual relationship, partners show up completely—emotionally, spiritually, mentally. You do not hide from each other and you feel comfortable being vulnerable and truthful to each other. (But you do it even if you don't.) You invest in self-awareness practices like meditation, yoga, and journaling so you are constantly increasing the awareness of what you want and need, and what you can do to be a better partner. Then you practice conscious communication to make sure your partner hears those needs. You both speak and listen with the intent to understand each other.
4. You practice forgiveness with each other.
When conflicts arise, as they naturally do, you practice forgiveness. You out-forgive each other, letting go of harsh words and hurt feelings. You talk about what happened as you forgive so the anger dissolves and resentment doesn't have a chance to grow. You are both vulnerable enough to ask for forgiveness when you’ve screwed up and compassionate enough to offer forgiveness when your partner asks for it.
5. Your default position is love.
You recognize the transcendent connection you have, even when your partner isn't being his/her best self. None of us does the right thing every time. Rather than condemn that person for a moment of weakness or a failing, you respond with open, unconditional love. That's where growth can flourish.
We have been put on this earth to love each other, and you both know that. When all else fails, you choose love—even (and perhaps especially) when it isn't easy.
6. Your only expectation for each other is that you each try to be your best self every day.
There's really only one reason relationships fail: It's that the expectation of one or both parties did not align with the reality they experienced. It doesn't matter what the expectation was—better communication, a shorter courtship period, that your partner wouldn't change—expectations are the doom of a relationship if you let them define it.
In relationships that last—spiritual relationships—both parties recognize that you can't predict human behavior, or expect them to fit into some arbitrary box you've created in your mind. You simply expect your partner to try to be the best version of themselves, every day. That makes it easier to let the relationship evolve naturally, rather than trying to put yourselves on a deadline. The only goal in your relationship should be to continue to evolve as individuals and as a couple. What comes out of that naturally will be the best possible outcome for both of you.
7. Your default is humility, not ego.
Rather than holding stubbornly to opinions or refusing to concede that you might have been wrong, partners in a spiritual relationship are able to take responsibility and accept that no one is perfect, no one is omniscient. If we can look back on our past selves and see that we were wrong, it means we're growing. It is a gift. In addition, you prioritize the health of your relationship over a desire to "win." Nobody "wins" in a fight, unless the argument is resolved and you come together at the end of it closer than ever.
You and your partner don't attack each other when triggered. You each acknowledge your role in every dynamic and approach conflict with a willingness to compromise and forgive. You appreciate each other more during the tough times, rather than resenting each other.
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the things you should always be selfish about in your partnerships and the questions that could keep your marriage from ending.
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Vishnu Subramaniam is a writer, coach, and author of nine self published books, including The Sacred Art of Letting Go: Walk 12 Steps with Spiritual Masters to Let Go of Past Relationships and Find Peace Today. He attended UCLA and worked as an immigration lawyer, but left the legal professional to help people overcome breakups, get out of a rut and build a life they've always wanted.